Study: College Becoming Unaffordable to Middle Class

August 23, 2012 | | The Sun Sentinel |

Many Florida families have been paying up to 25 percent of median income for public in-state college costs — out of reach for some middle-class parents who have taken recent pay cuts or lost jobs, according to a new study.

Some South Florida families are paying even more — plunking down what amounts to about a third of the median income for Floridians for students to attend Florida International University or Florida Atlantic University, according to the study co-written by the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at FIU.

With 15 percent tuition hikes starting this fall, FAU students will pay more than $17,000 a year, including room and board. FIU students face similar costs.

Meanwhile, the Great Recession has shrunk median household income to $48,772 in Broward and $49,660 in Palm Beach Countyby 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. In fact, the American middle class finished the last decade poorer and in fewer numbers than when the 21st Century began, according to a Pew Research Center report released Wednesday.

As a result, college is becoming unaffordable to a growing number of South Florida families and students, unless they go deeply into debt, concluded Bruce Nissen, a co-author of the report and chairman of the advisory committee of Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy.

"Students are being priced out of an education," said Nissen, who also worked with researchers at the New York-based Demos, a national public policy center.

Kids are bearing the brunt of the state's recent budget tightening, he added. Florida has cut higher education spending 40 percent in three years — with in-state public universities responding by raising tuition, fees and dorm costs. "Until I did the study, I didn't realize it was that bad," Nissen said.

The rising college costs will keep some kids from becoming educated to fill future jobs that will require a sheepskin, according to the study, "Florida's Great Cost Shift: How Higher Education Cuts Undermine Its Future Middle Class."